Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs from Jesse Cook, Melvin Taylor and Saul Zonana

 Of Cooking, Burning and Breaking

By Brian Arsenault

Jesse Cook

The Blue Guitar Sessions (Entertainment One Music)

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

When I decided to review three guitar-based albums, I didn’t expect Jesse Cook’s The Blue Guitar Sessions to be my favorite.  I listened to it last, half expecting to largely dismiss it with a few lukewarm lines. Thus are prejudices to be avoided.

It is a remarkable album, I think, softly buffeting against a world perhaps too noisy for it.

To hear Cook’s acoustic, nylon stringed guitar supported and complemented by cello,  accordion, violin and piano, separately at times and in combination at others, is to be invited into a secret world with its own language.  The classic Miles Davis jazz album, Kinda Blue — to which it is a distant homage — did that. The best of Enya does that.

Here we are transported to guitar and accordion (Tom Szczesniak) buskers playing on the streets of  an imaginary Paris in “Witching Hour” and later a West Bank café, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” sung by Emma-Lee.  Cook spent his early years in Paris, of course, and Lee and he share a hometown of Toronto.

Emma-Lee also provides the vocal on the marvelous lead tune, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ recast “I Put A Spell on You.” Think it can’t be done soft and sultry? Give a listen.

Of course, I was prejudiced (there’s that word again) in favor right away since Cook chose a song with the immortal line: “I don’t care if you want me, I’m yours.”

“Broken Moon” is a moody night with Amy Laing’s dark cello perfectly complementing Cook’s guitar. “Miles Shorter,” with guitar and piano keeping company, reaches long into something deep. “Ocean Blue” in my estimation could be played in a classical program with wide acceptance. And “You,” well, it’s beautiful.

Most of the playing here is soft; linked by mood, themes, emotion. But it is not understated.  It is softly stated. Lyrical. Poetic. Ours is a harsh age but you may remember. Or yearn.

 Melvin Taylor

Beyond the Burning Guitar (TK)

Maybe Melvin Taylor shouldn’t have gone beyond. What is left is not a burning tour de force. Instead, it’s a two disc sampling of various styles and techniques and I‘m not sure which are his.

Maybe the problem is being compared to Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana when you’re really doing more of a jazz guitar album.  You can say, hey, that’s not his fault but that’s what’s on the album jacket and in the press packet.

Are those comparisons supposed to encourage “cross over” listeners.  They are more likely to set up the disciples of those rock guitar gods for disappointment.

Oh, it’s not that Taylor isn’t accomplished. It’s that he’s mostly playing jazz here and it’s probably jazz you have heard elsewhere.  The rock and blues numbers, not so many in number, seem thrown in to say, see, don’t forget I can play like that too.

Well done but who is he? He’s not terribly distinctive jazz like Graham Dechter, though really very good. He’s not living rock n roll like Stevie Ray or Jimi. So I’m left somewhere in the middle.

 Saul Zonana

Fix the Broken (TK)

Saul Zonana has a certain charm about him with a stripped down, neatly produced (and not the dreaded overproduced) album.  It seems largely like a collection of singles for radio during the era when it played three minute hits. Maybe a couple of country headliners will do some  hit-making with the songs here, now that he’s moved from New York to Nashville.

On his own, the problem may lie in the line “How do I get you to notice me?” from the CD’s first song, “Notice.”  Could be he’s asking all of us.

No doubt a strong road musician in a variety of bands and plenty good in the studio backing up whomever; he may not be broken, just not pushing the limits hard enough to get our attention.

There’s some Beatles harmonies on “The Music” and there’s a bit of Lennon later on. “Abandoned Sky” even sounds like a Lennon title. Zonana can slow it down on “A Kiss When I’m Gone”. Show his new Nashville base on “Fly”.

As he says on “I Don’t Either,” there’s “no need to apologize”.  It’s honest, even earnest, workmanlike. But it’s not inspired.

To read more reviews, posts and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

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